Enjoying the Sunshine Safely

Sunshine is quite literally a life giving thing. Scientists estimate that 82 million quads of Btu energy from the sun reaches the earth’s surface each year. That’s 20,000x the amount of energy used by the entire human race throughout history.  Needless to say, sunlight is certainly powerful and foundational to the flourishing of all life on Earth, which of course includes human beings. On the whole, one could easily argue that sunshine is a good thing. Beholding its rays lifts our moods and has holistic health benefits. However, we also know that too much of a good thing can very quickly become a bad thing. It is widely known that too much sun exposure without proper protection results in at the very least sunburns and at the very worst varying forms of skin cancer. Sunshine, like most of the great things in life, must be embraced in moderation. But what does it mean to enjoy the sunshine safely? How do we fully acknowledge the pros and cons and make balanced decisions that dictate our behavior? Well, we trust the medical experts, which is certainly wise in times like these and beyond. 

First and foremost, let’s survey the health benefits of sunshine. What is there to love about it? According to reputable online medical information sources such as Healthline and WebMD, sunlight significantly bolsters mental and physical health by: 

Increasing the brain’s release of serotonin 
When sunlight hits specific sensors within the retina, it triggers the release of a hormone called serotonin from the brain. Serotonin is often associated with mood regulation, relaxation, and happiness. Decreased serotonin levels as a result of less sunlight in darker months can potentially cause major depression with seasonal pattern (which was previously known as seasonal affective disorder or SAD). So, if you ever wondered why a sunny day made you smile, serotonin release is a notable reason.
Combating skin conditions 
Limited exposure to the UV radiation of the sun’s rays can be used to treat certain skin inflammation issues like psoriasis, eczema, jaundice, and acne. With that being said, you’re probably better off going to the dermatologist who can regulate the amount of UV exposure you receive at a given time in moderated light therapy.  
Minimizing risk for certain cancers

It is also largely known that sunlight provides something else our bodies need to thrive:  vitamin D. As it turns out, vitamin D isn’t actually a vitamin, but a prohormone that facilitates proper calcium absorption. Having appropriate vitamin D levels can minimize the risk of cancers correlated with calcium deficiency like colon cancer, ovarian cancer, and pancreatic cancer. 

Enhancing sleep quality 
Sunlight helps your body to establish healthy circadian rhythms, which in turn makes the time you spend asleep more stable and efficient. Think about it. Isn’t it harder to track what time of day it is in the winter? For me personally, I know my internal clock is all out of whack in the darker months, especially when it’s pitch-black at 5pm and all I want to do is go to sleep. 
Improving and maintaining eyesight 
Moderate sunlight exposure, particularly in one’s teen and young adult years, prevents the deterioration of one’s ability to see objects in the distance over time. In other words, it minimizes the oncoming risk of nearsightedness. 

Now, we need to recognize that sunshine, perhaps ironically, has its dark side. As I mentioned before, too much of it is dangerous. I mean, it is in large part UV radiation after all. The sunlight’s power needs to be respected and accounted for in decision-making. So when having fun in the sun, do so while: 

Being mindful of the time of day
 In general, experts maintain that 5-15 minutes of sunlight on one's arms, hands, and face two to three times a week can be enough to enjoy the subsequent boost in vitamin D. However, they further advise that this sun-soaking period should ideally happen in the early morning or the later parts of the evening. The sun’s rays, with the accompanying UV radiation, tend to descend more directly in the 10am-4pm time window. So when you can, opt for the early morning jog over the one at high noon. 
Wearing sunscreen 
EVERYONE needs to wear at least 30 SPF sunscreen, even on cloudy days. For many, sunscreen seems to be of more obvious benefit in the prevention of sunburn. However, for those with darker complexions, myself included, sunscreen is still needed to minimize more covert UV radiation damage. Though people with darker skin seem less likely to have sun-exposure related skin cancers, those who are diagnosed are more likely to be in the advanced stages of the disease. Melanin is beautiful and magical, but it is not an impermeable shield.  
NOT going to tanning beds
Frankly, there’s nothing good or safe about it. Exposing yourself to damaging UV radiation for purely cosmetic purposes? The tradeoff isn’t worth it.  You are better off using self-tanning lotions and sprays. 

We all love a nice sunny day. Sunlight is absolutely wonderful overall. But remember, too much of a good thing is not a very good thing. Enjoy the sun and all its benefits while wearing sunscreen, doing everything safely. And in the midst of these troubling times, I hope that we can come together as the LILAS community and understand how our appreciation of day-to-day things like the sunlight can fortify all of our wellness journeys all the more.

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